Category: 2007

Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

Split Enz – The Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes

Split Enz - The Rootin' Tootin' Luton TapesFor much of of 1978, Split Enz seemed to have reached the end of the road. Having lost their label contract, their management, and almost all of their live work, the band was stranded in England with only a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council in their native New Zealand to sustain them through the lean times. At this point, lead singer/songwriter Tim Finn’s younger brother, Neil, had been with the band for less than a year. With no concerts to play, the emphasis was on writing and rehearsing (and, when they could afford it, recording) new material, and with Phil Judd having come and gone again, Neil had his first chance to try to add his own songwriting touch to the band’s sound. In June and July of 1978, the Enz converged on a studio in Luton to record their new material, with songs written by both of the Finns. And the irony of it is that only a few of those recordings have been heard until now.

Approximately half of the songs recorded at Luton were honed further and re-recorded from scratch as the group’s 1979 album Frenzy. The other half were occasionally dusted off (and sometimes re-recorded) as B-sides for singles (this being back in the days when there were still physical singles, and when those singles still had B-sides), while others never saw the light of day. Poised precariously between the original Split Enz remit of arty, complicated rock with ambitious arrangements and challenging tempo changes, and the group’s more sharply-focused ’80s pop-going-on-new-wave sound, these are the Luton sessions, revealed at last after 30 years to satisfy relentless pressure from the group’s loyal fans down through the years.

Is there a reason these recordings weren’t issued at some point back then? Well…yeah. They’re definitely diamonds in the rough, and there’s almost zero stylistic unity in the material. With nothing to lose (how much lower could they go from being unemployed in another country, with no recording contract and no promotion?), the band can clearly be heard revisiting its old sound, taking various approaches to revamping it, and even trying on and discarding whole new styles as they saw fit. The bulk of the songs are still Tim’s, though the tunes written by Neil are a revelation. Some of the songs represent his earliest songwriting efforts, as well as some of his earliest outings as a professional musician. His singing voice is, to be charitable, unrefined in places, but the pure catchiness of his songwriting offsets that. “Carried Away” and “Holy Smoke” originated here, as did “Late In Rome”, better known as “Serge”.

Tim’s contributions aren’t anything to sneeze at, however – “Semi-Detached” (one of my favorite songs that the man’s ever written), “Hypnotized”, “Next Exit” and “Remember When” originate from the Luton sessions, among many others. It’s with Tim’s songs that one can hear the most stylistic experimentation; “Hypnotized” is performed almost in the style of ’50s blues-rock, with a typically Enz twist, and some of Tim’s other tunes are similarly poised between the Enz’ early ’70s music-hall-inspired sound and more instantly accessible styles.

There are other landmarks to be heard here, especially if one has the two-disc version that was made available only to the Frenz Of The Enz fan club. That second disc, not available at retail, consists primarily of early mixes of the songs from Frenzy. Some of them, such as “Frenzy” itself, is in a decidedly unfinished form. But that disc also contains other tunes as well – Phil Judd’s last two contributions to the Enz as songwriter, “I’m So Up” and “So This Is Love”, are on the fan-club-only disc, as is “Livin’ It Up”, a song by relatively new recruit Nigel Griggs, which sees the Enz belly up to the edge of punk…and apparently back away slowly again. Judd’s two songs are a sharp reminder that, as much as some listeners regard him as the architect of the Enz’s weirder excesses, he was as capable of coming up with catchy, three-or-four-minute gems just as the Finn brothers were.

Other unusual writing credits appear; the first disc features a Griggs/Tim Finn collaboration, “Creature Comforts”, “Straight Talk” (co-written by the elder Finn and former Enz sax/horn player Robert Gillies, who had departed the band by this point and embarked on an art career that would later see him serving as, of all things, production designer for Xena: Warrior Princess), and an atmospheric-but-rather-strange song called “Animal Lover” by Eddie Rayner. These songs likely emerged from group jams – it was about as close as the Enz would ever get to an all-hands-pitch-in kind of band. The rest of the time, barring a few Eddie Rayner instrumentals, it seems that the band’s music came from the minds of Judd and/or one Finn or the other. It’s an interesting peek into avenues left unexplored. The first-ever songwriting collaboration between the Finn brothers, “Best Friend”, can also be heard, though it’s not something you’d probably be expecting if your indoctrination into the Finns’ duets was Woodface or the Finn Brothers albums.

It’s worth noting that purists might object to one thing: Rayner remixed many of the recordings, though not all. The two Judd songs originate from an appearance on the BBC’s Dave Lee Travis show, and some were left alone or had been mixed down and couldn’t be remixed. “Semi-Detached” is one such example of a song left untouched, and it certainly didn’t need any revising. But to be honest, purist or no, I’ve never heard the Luton tapes in their original state – and I doubt too many can say that they have either – so it’s not as if I have something to compare this release to so I can hear what’s changed. I also appreciate that the bulk of the Frenzy material is on the second disc only; as Frenzy is still available commercially, these alternate takes amount to music deleted scenes and outtakes (though the band is said to prefer the raw passion of the original recordings). Those who only want to hear stuff they’ve never heard before can do just fine with the single-disc version.

4 out of 4Ultimately, this collection, in either single or double disc form, may really be for-fans’-ears-only material. These aren’t new Split Enz songs (nor are there likely to be any), but the vast majority of the songs on the first disc, and a fair few on the second disc, will be new to most fans’ ears, and I’m not one to pass up on the chance to hear something new – or even just new-to-me – from either Finn. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the group’s “year from hell,” in an English summer three decades ago.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Miss Haps (4:08)
  2. Home Comforts (4:13)
  3. Animal Lover (3:16)
  4. Carried Away (4:37)
  5. Semi-Detached (5:03)
  6. Holy Smoke (3:21)
  7. Message Boy (3:47)
  8. Hypnotised (3:41)
  9. Late In Rome (3:25)
  10. Straight Talk (3:23)
  11. Hollow Victory (3:23)
  12. Evelyn (3:16)
  13. Best Friend (3:04)
  14. Creature Comforts (2:52)
  15. Remember When (3:56)

Disc two – Frenz of the Enz version only

  1. Hermit McDermitt (5:02)
  2. Betty (6:13)
  3. I See Red (3:15)
  4. Mind Over Matter (3:09)
  5. Next Exit (3:54)
  6. She Got Body She Got Soul (2:57)
  7. So This Is Love (4:14)
  8. Abu Dhabi (4:53)
  9. Famous People (4:02)
  10. I’m So Up (2:58)
  11. Marooned (2:27)
  12. Livin’ It Up (1:17)
  13. Frenzy (3:07)

Released by: Rhino
Release date: 2007
Disc one total running time: 55:25
Disc two total running time: 47:28

The Peter Br̦tzmann Octet РThe Complete Machine Gun Sessions

Peter Brötzmann Octet - The Complete Machine Gun SessionsThere are three different types of people who will listen to this album. The first person will plug their ears after 10 seconds and turn it off. The second person will continue listening, not out of the respect to the music, but out of morbid curiosity: “Is this a joke? When does the music start?” The third person will listen to the album, listen to it again, and keep on listening. Digging deeper with every nuance of Brötzmann’s music, the listener will find himself faced with the unknown derived from familiarity. It is harsh, brutal and unforgiving — but also captivating and mesmerizing.

As the story goes, three things in particular make this album unique. First, Brötzmann employs an octet for the recording of this album. While octets in jazz are not new, they are uncommon (7 years later, Ornette Coleman used an octet for the recording of his album Free Jazz, but he split it up into two quartets who played simultaneously rather than eight musicians playing all at once). The second thing is that they recorded the album not in a studio but rather at a nightclub in Germany, which provided poor acoustics. This worked in Brötzmann’s favor, however, as it added to the “dense”-ness of the album. The third thing that is unique about the record is the music itself.

Yes, it is chaoctic. Brötzmann and Co. play their instruments to the breaking point, with blasts of drums piercing the wails of saxophones and basses. Yes, it is dissonant. There seems to be no trace of melody. In fact, the only time a semblance of song structure creeps in is about 15 minutes into the title track, but the walls of noise soon overtake it. Nevertheless, this is not music that is made simply to be listened to a couple times. It’s something to reflect; examine. It is music that has to be felt.

This new 2007 remaster by Atavistic includes the original LP, and adds two more alternate takes from the same session. There is also a live version of the title track performed two months prior to the studio sessions at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival in 1968. The original LP tracks are great by themselves, but the added material really adds more to the album. The live version in particular is sensational.

Overall, it is a simply astounding piece of work, and one that has few peers in the music archives.

4 out of 4

Order this CD

  1. Machine Gun (17:19)
  2. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (8:20)
  3. Music for Han Bennink (11:29)
  4. Machine Gun (Second Take) (15:01)
  5. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (First Take) (10:08)
  6. Machine Gun (Live) (17:40)

Released by: Atavistic
Release date: 1968 (re-released 2007)
Total running time: 79:53